XTC – Oranges And Lemons – The Surround Series – Ape House/ Panegoric (CD + audio-mostly Blu-ray) APEBD109, CD: 60:50, Blu-ray: 5.1 PCM Surround (24/96), 5.1 DT-HD Master (24/96), PCM Stereo (24/96) [10/23/15] ****: 

(Colin Moulding – vocals, bass; Andy Partridge – vocals, guitar; David Gregory – guitar, keyboards, backing vocals; with Pat Mastelloto – drums; Mark Isham – horns; Paul Fox – keyboards; Franne Golde – backing vocals)

It is difficult to concisely summarize XTC. The band has been described as a “post-punk” New Wave, but there is an innate ambivalence. They emerged on the scene in 1977 (but had been together for five years) after being signed by Virgin Records. They released their debut album, White Music, which featured compositions by Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding (and a rare cover of “All Along The Watchtower”). But their single “Statue Of Liberty” was banned. They gained traction with subsequent albums and singles. In 1982, the band stopped touring completely (due to Partridge’s intense stage fright) and became an eclectic studio band. Dave Gregory joined the band for the third album, Drums And Wires and that was the most successful core unit. Fiercely independent, the group battled with producers (Todd Rundgren who worked on the successful Skylarking) and increasingly relied on studio technology to convey their musical contexts.

Ape Records has released a CD + Blu-ray package of Oranges And Lemons (originally recorded in 1989). This is the third release following Nonesuch in 2013 and Drums And Wires in 2014, and has stereo (CD) and 5.1 surround (Blu-ray) re-mastering by Steven Wilson (and a few videos). The opening track (“Garden Of Earthly Delights”) defines this effort with its aggressive, percussive rhythm and stylized vocals with rich production. The melodies are underneath the mix and at times are catchy pop tunes, as in “The Mayor Of Simpleton”. This song is caught in different formats throughout the Blu-ray. Great vocals and rhythmic accessibility made this song a hit. The album has an eighties vibe (“King For A Day”), but delves into political speech (in the march-time “Here Comes President Kill Again”) which has a Beatles-like chorus and horns.

XTC acknowledges their influences like Mott The Hoople on “The Loving”. But it still sounds original on cuts like “Poor Skeleton Steps Out” with the funky New-Wave beat, percussion and backup vocals. The group gets muscular on “Merely A Man”. There is a stylistic departure that is welcome. “Miniature Sun” is more complex and has a steady repeat melody that has some interesting, jazz-like chord changes. The finale, “Chalkhills and Children” is atmospheric and hypnotic with layered vocals and synthesizers. While there are noteworthy moments, not all of the music is necessarily compelling. The band was following up on Skylarking and chose to utilize another American producer (Paul Fox). There was “regret” over the “choice of material” (by the band) and the flow and consistency is uneven.

But Steven Wilson’s re-mastering efforts are superior, on both the CD and Blu-ray. The sonic upgrade brings new life to the songs. The guitars have an electronic vibrancy and crispness. The synthesizers have a fuller resonance, and the vocals are both prominent and blended when necessary. Wilson’s expertise in surround mixing is exceptional. The dynamic range is expanded and details emerge that seemed hidden or buried in prior mixes.  The additional material is prolific and includes a 5.1 instrumental mix, flat album transfer, demos, work tapes, rough mixes and new songs. There are also some videos; three of “The Mayor Of Simpleton”. The liner notes by the band members are incisive and anecdotal. For some reason, the font in the booklet is quite small and difficult to read. Oranges And LemonsThe Surround Series is the perfect vehicle for this quirky studio band.


CD (2015) Stereo: Garden Of Earthly Delights; The Mayor Of Simpleton; King For A Day; Here Comes President Kill Again; The Loving; Poor Skeleton Steps Out; One Of The Millions; Scarecrow People; Merely A Man; Cynical Days; Across This Antheap; Hold Me My Daddy; Pink Thing; Miniature Sun; Chalkhills and Children


5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio 24/96: (same sel. as CD);

5.1 PCM Surround 24/96 (same sel. as CD)

5.1 Instrumental Mix (same sel. as CD);

2015 Stereo Mix (same sel. as CD);

Flat Transfer Of Original Album Mix (same sel. as CD);

Album In Demo And Work Tapes (same sel. as CD);

Extra Demos And Work Tapes: The Good Things; Living In A Haunted Heart; Skeletons; Blue Beret; Way Of The World; Everything; REM Producer Enquiry (First Version Of Mayor Of Simpleton); Early Version Of Mayor Of Simpleton; Early Version Of Miniature Sun; Early Version Of Pink Thing; Was A Yes; Miller Time; Child’s Crusade; Rousseau; My Paint Heroes; Chapel Lane Radio; In Another Life; This Is The End

Rehearsals At Leeds Studio L.A.: Antheap 1; Antheap 2 The Good Things; Working On Chalkhills And Children; Working On One Of The Millions; Working On Pink Thing; Working On This Is The End; Working On Miniature Sun; Merely A Man

Promo And ID Work: US And Canadian Radio IDs; Canadian Radio IDs; Geffen Merry Christmas Song; Geffen Psychedelic Christmas

Other Recordings: Ella Guru; My Train Is Coming; The Mayor Of Simpleton (Rough Mix); King For A Day (Czar Mix); King For A Day (12” Mix)

Videos: The Mayor Of Simpleton (UK Version); The Mayor Of Simpleton (US Version); The Mayor Of Simpleton (Long Version); King For A Day (Lion Version); The Road To Oranges And Lemons

–Robbie Gerson